Wacky Wednesday: Chynna Laird Writes About Sensory Processing Disorder (and book giveaway!)
January 6, 2010 in Elementary Educators, High School Teachers, Laird, Chynna T., Middle School Teachers, Wacky Wednesday Tags: Book Giveaway Contest, Children with Special Needs, Chynna T. Laird, I'm Not Weird I have SPD, Parenting children with special needs, sensory processing disorder, SPD, Teaching children with Special Needs
I am very excited about this week’s Wacky Wednesday post because I am welcoming, Chynna Laird, on her WOW! blog tour. Chynna is the author of a must-read book for all teachers and parents, especially those of us who have a child with special needs. If you know a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, you should read this book soon. It may just be the inspiration you are looking for!
This is Chynna’s second visit on Read These Books and Use Them. She also wrote a picture book called I’m Not Weird, I have SPD, which was given away to Jennifer L. in that book contest.
So, here Chynna is again, and this time with a memoir about parenting her daughter with Sensory Processing Disorder. ***BOOK GIVEAWAY CONTEST! Please leave a comment by Friday, January 8 at 6:00 pm CST for a chance to win Not Just Spirited.
Here’s a little about this wonderful book:
What would you do if your child suffered with something so severe it affected every aspect of her life?
And what if your cries for help fell on deaf ears at every turn? You’d follow your gut and fight until someone listened. And that’s what Chynna Laird did. When she was just three months old, her daughter Jaimie’s reactions to people and situations seemed odd. She refused any form of touch, she gagged at smells, she was clutzy and threw herself around, and spent most of her day screaming with her hands over her ears and eyes.
By the time she turned two, Jaimie was so fearful of her world they spent most days inside. What was wrong with Chynna’s miracle girl? Why wouldn’t anyone help her figure it out? Jaimie wasn’t “just spirited” as her physician suggested nor did she lack discipline at home. When Jaimie was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) at two-and-a-half, Chynna thought she had “the answer,” but that was just the jumping off point for years of questions. Chynna embarked on a three-year quest for the right treatments to reveal the Jaimie she loved so much. With the right diagnosis and treatment suited to Jaimie, her family finally felt hope. Not Just Spirited is an insider’s peek at one family dealing with an “invisible” disorder and fighting to find peace for their daughter.
And now for an interview with the author:
Margo: Welcome, Chynna, and thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. If you are a parent with a child who has Sensory Processing Disorder, what are three important, important things that you need to tell the school and teacher about your child?
Chynna: This is an amazing question, Margo. Jaimie did one year of pre-preschool and two years of preschool before we felt she was ready for public school. We found it incredible that, at that time, none of Jaimie’s teachers even knew what Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) was. These days, there seems to be a lot more effort being made to inform teachers about sensory issues and SPD because so many children have it, from mildly to quite severely.
So the first important thing I’d say parents need to do is INFORM. They don’t need to go into the school and conduct a full workshop on SPD; but it’s important to explain, basically, what SPD is, how it can interfere with learning, and what the specific needs of their child are. If need be, parents should bring their child’s OT or other therapists with them to help clarify any of the technical terms or “jargon” that the school may want to know about. Parents should know that, sometimes, they may face school administrators or teachers who don’t “buy into” SPD or who will refuse to change things for one child. If this happens, it’s better to bring in the professionals to help give information. People respond better to changes when they understand the history and have all of the “whys” in the situation answered. Two small sidebars here are: (1) Parents should be as informed as they can be on the subject of SPD, so they can advocate for their child as strongly as possible. If parents are armed with information, they can be more confident in addressing any issues and they can also be sure to address any questions and/or concerns. and (2) Parents are the experts with their child and should never be made to feel they have to just go along with what’s comfortable for everyone else. If your child is struggling…with anything…you should never be afraid to speak up. Often times, people just don’t understand or don’t see a problem until you sit down and say, “Hey, Jaimie isn’t functioning well at home, and I’d like to talk to you about what’s going on here.”
The second important thing parents should do is give a HISTORY. All schools take a health history; so they know about any diseases or things like diabetes, allergies, asthma, etc. Parents with children who have SPD should also include a list of things that include:
• Triggers – what sensory stimuli in the classroom environment would produce the greatest struggles for your child? (Think about lighting, smells, sounds, closeness of other children, etc.)
• Needs – What does your child need in order to feel more comfortable in the classroom? This includes anything from special seating to calm down tools to items he or she needs to feel like part of the group. Include a list of sensory tools your child needs to have with him at school (eg: headphones while working, a sensory cushion, figits, etc.)
• Activities – What sorts of activities would your child struggle with and need “tweaking” in order to participate? (An example would be children whose tactile sensitivity is so severe, an activity like finger painting would cause a break down. Or, alternatively, a child who needs to feel or smell the paint in order to experience it and would smear it, smell it, or even taste it. Giving the first child a paintbrush and the second child permission to use hands with fun smelling paints or “tasteable” paints are great options.)
• Transition difficulty – This is a common struggle for children with sensory sensitivity. Be sure to voice which areas may present a higher degree of difficulty for your child and what sorts of things that could help your child cope. For example, verbal, musical, or visual cues work fantastic for children who need a bit more time to prepare themselves for the next activity. (Many children with SPD also have Dyspraxia, which is difficulty with planning and following through with tasks, especially tasks with more than one or two steps. Having cues, extra preparation time, and adjusting teaching methods (verbal and written or putting steps into a picture format) can really help them.)
• Routines – Most children with SPD have rigid routines they follow in order to cope with their sensitivities. How can these routines be used in school to make transitions easier?
• The good stuff – It’s crucial to add what your child excels in. They need to be seen as more than a child with difficulties. Plus the good stuff can be used as an incentive to do the work children need to do as well as to remind them of what they can do when they struggle.
• Options – Options are crucial for a child with sensory struggles. There are days where certain stimuli may not affect these children at all; but on others, the same stimuli will catapult them through the roof.
Teachers need to be sensitive to this aspect of SPD and have options available for certain activities so that even when a child is too sensitive to finger paint, for example, he can still participate in the same activity with a few…tweaks (such as a paint brush or using rubber gloves).
The last important suggestion for parents is to have constant COMMUNICATION. This was a hard lesson for us. Don’t take it for granted that because you informed the school and teachers that everything will be fine. My Jaimie, for example, is an expert at holding it together in social settings. She’s been that way all her life, which is why it was difficult for people to see her struggles. This is the same with her teacher and the school administrators who constantly tell us, “I can’t believe anything is even wrong with her. She seems to do just fine and is happy.” One day, just before Remembrance Day, I came to pick Jaimie up from school to find her in the fetal position, completely unresponsive. It took me over ten minutes to get her to focus on me and get her out of the school, so I could calm her and hours to get her to speak to me. For children with SPD, it’s never just one thing that sets them off; it’s usually a series of things. Think of what it must be like to sit there all day long with sensory stimulation constantly poking at you for your attention: the lights, the different smells, all the different voices, the tiny changes that may happen to the usual routine, recess, the hard chair under your bum, etc. For Jaimie, on top of all the other things around her, she had a poppy pinned on her shirt rubbing against her skin all day long. Having to deal with that on top of the usual irritations or stimulations was too much.
So, having constant communication, both with the teacher and the school administration, is very important. You need to keep a strong line of communication between home and school, so the environments are similar in terms of how overstimulation is dealt with, sensory tools are used, and calming exercises are available to them. It’s also important for teachers to use similar words for things (eg: tools, exercises, feelings, etc.) as parents do at home. It’s a good idea for parents to request weekly/bi-weekly meetings with the main teacher to discuss how the child is doing at home and at school, exercises to try, strategies, and other issues. Parents should also have monthly meetings with the school administrators (principal, curriculum coordinator, or others) to keep everyone abreast of what is going on with the child. When everyone involved with the child understands and is informed, there is less chance that meltdowns or misunderstandings will occur.
Margo: WOW! You are definitely an expert; Being a former elementary school teacher, I know all of the things you are saying here to both parents and teachers is so true! If someone reading this is a teacher with a child who has Sensory Processing Disorder in their classroom, how can she best help her student to learn? Any tips?
Chynna: The first thing the teacher should do is meet with the parent. We can read all the books out there on SPD, but the only person who can tell the teacher about the child in their classroom is their parent or parents. The next thing is to try making the classroom as sensory-friendly as possible. Children need to have their various sensory systems stimulated but attention needs to be paid to such things as the type of lighting, noise level, where the child’s desk is located, the sorts of activities that will be done, etc.
A great place for all teachers to start if they’re interested is Carol Stock Kranowitz’s book, The Out Of Sync Child, as well as Dr. Lucy Jane Miller’s amazing book, Sensational Kids. Carol offers many tips for teachers to help children in the classroom (you can also suggest The Out Of Sync Child Has Fun, which suggests activities to do with children at home and in the classroom.)
Teachers should be open to learning about the child’s individual needs and understand that the child’s needs may change from one day to the next or even one hour to the next. What bothers this child one day may not even phase her the next. They should know that it isn’t the basic senses these children struggle with but their vestibular system (balance, coordination, motion) and proprioceptive (how the muscles and joints respond), and they may need specific exercises and/or activities in the classroom throughout the day (Jaimie, for example, needs specific vestibular input every 60 to 90 minutes throughout the day, which could be heavy jobs like carrying jugs or tubs, wall or chair push-ups, or simply walking to the office to take a message to the principal.) The best advice I can give to teachers who may be reading your blog is to bear in mind what parents discuss with you, then wear your “Sensory Glasses” when observing the child. What’s going on around the child? Is she acting out or just being a kid? After awhile, it will get easier. But always work as a team with the parents and the school administrators, welcome the tools/exercises the child needs to function, and never be afraid to ask questions when concerns arise.
Margo: You are right; it is so important to keep up communication with all involved parties and never be afraid to ask questions or discuss issues that arise. What should a parent or teacher reading this blog and your book do if they think a child has SPD? Is there a resource online that explains symptoms or behaviors?
Chynna: If parents suspect their child may have sensory issues or SPD I’d suggest having the child assessed by an experienced occupational therapist (OT) specifically trained with SPD. What this does is not only give parents direction to their child’s specific sensory needs, if there are any, but also a detailed report on their child’s specific needs. This is very important because the report and results of the assessment will help to get the child her needs met in the classroom, ongoing support (if need be) from the OT, and direction of the child’s individual needs.
I’m glad you asked about online support for the explanations of symptoms and behaviors. There are several, but here are a few of the best:
• www.spdfoundation.net – This is the website created by Dr. Lucy J. Miller. You’ll find explanations, research results, connections to resources in local and international communities as well as checklists and other helpful information. This is THE site to check out first.
• www.spdcanada.org – This site was set up by my dear friend Lori Fankhanel. It’s pretty much the Canadian version of SPD Foundation. Lori is an amazing person with phenomenal knowledge about SPD and ways to cope with it.
• www.sensorysmarts.com – For people out there who have purchased the book, Raising A Sensory Smart Child, by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Pesky will already be aware of this site. It’s an extension of their wonderful book filled with resources, tips, direction as well as a great newsletter with monthly “Sensory Smart” tips.
• www.sensoryplanet.com – This is basically a major connection place for any and all people who care for, teach, or are involved with in any way children who have SPD. Carrie Fanin is an amazing Sensational Mom doing an incredible thing. If you’re a parent, teacher, expert, or someone who just wants to understand, this is the site for you.
• www.autisticlike.com – This is another amazing site for people who want to know that there are other families going through what they are. Erik and Jennie Linthorst went through so much to get to where they are in terms of getting the right diagnosis and treatment for their son. Their documentary, Autistic-Like: Graham’s Story, is an amazing depiction of their incredible journey.
• www.hartleysboys.blogspot.com – This is the blog of my very good friend, Hartley, who writes about her experiences with having a child with SPD. She is an amazing resource and one you’ll definitely want to follow as well as have in your favorites.
• www.lilywolfwords.ca – This is my personal website. On it you’ll find resources, information about SPD, and a blog page filled with interviews with experts in the field and direction to important resources. I also have a newsletter with the latest and greatest information, interviews with the experts, and so much more.
Margo: Thank you for all this wonderful information, Chynna. I am so happy that you stopped here on your blog tour! Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment or question for Chynna about her book or Sensory Processing Disorder for a chance to win Not Just Spirited!